Prisons In The War On Terror

Video highlights from America's Hardest Prison: Guantanamo

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is just one of the many detention facilities housing detainees in the War on Terror.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is just one of the many detention facilities housing detainees in the War on Terror. Some sites are well known — such as the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — while others, called the CIA “black sites,” operated clandestinely. According to the human rights group Reprieve, the United States has acknowledged that 26,000 individuals are currently held in secret prisons. Also according to Reprieve, an estimated 80,000 prisoners have been through the system since 2001. Below is an overview:


The largest Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prison in Afghanistan had the code name Salt Pit. Reports indicate that in 2002, a detainee allegedly froze to death after he was stripped and left chained to a concrete floor all night. Due to concerns about soldiers’ safety travelling on the road to the prison, it was relocated to the Bagram Air Base approximately 43 kilometres north of Kabul.

The U.S. military also has a detention facility inside Bagram, which was set up after the invasion of Afghanistan. When the flow of terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay largely stopped in 2004, an increasing number were sent to Bagram and it became overcrowded. Now, construction is under way on a new facility. Many of the prisoners have been transferred to a newly constructed prison run by the Afghan military, but the military detention facility at Bagram is still in use.


In 2004, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired photos taken at Abu Ghraib depicting guards posing with prisoners who had been forced to assume humiliating positions. A report by Major General Antonio Taguba described numerous instances of criminal abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib between October and December 2003. In 2006, control of Abu Ghraib was handed over to the Iraqi government.

The primary military detention centre in Iraq is Camp Bucca. The vast facility on the Iraq-Kuwait border houses more than 15,000 Iraqi prisoners and 8,000 jailers. Reportedly, Bucca is expected to be shut down in mid-2009, at which time any remaining detainees will be transferred to another camp at an air base near Baghdad.


The CIA operated a network of secret prisons called “black sites” between 2001 and 2006. These overseas sites were chosen because it is illegal to hold prisoners covertly in the United States.

The CIA has refused to release details, but the black site prison system allegedly included at various times sites in Thailand, Afghanistan, several Eastern European states and a facility within the military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

On September 6, 2006, President Bush acknowledged in an address to the nation that the CIA had held prisoners in secret without charge for years, and that detainees had been subjected to tough “alternative” interrogation procedures. The president said that he had emptied the sites and that the prisoners had been transferred.

In 2006, the U.S. military transferred 14 “high-value” terrorism suspects from secret sites to the main prison at Guantanamo Bay. The group included Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged planner of the September 11 attacks; senior al-Qaida aide Abu Zubaida; and an Indonesian extremist known as Hambali who has been linked to bombings in Bali and the Philippines. President Bush asserted that interrogations of these detainees by specially trained CIA officers yielded information that led to the unravelling of al-Qaida plots to manufacture anthrax spores, attack a Marine base in the African country Djibouti and the U.S. consulate in Pakistan, and to fly a passenger plane into a site in London.


The CIA’s practice of transferring captured terrorism suspects to countries where interrogation practices are allowed that would be illegal in the United States is known as extraordinary rendition. Allegedly, prisoners were sent to countries including Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. According to the human rights group Reprieve, there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006.


The United States allegedly has housed detainees in “floating prisons” on as many as 17 ships since 2001. According to the human rights group Reprieve, detainees are interrogated onboard the ships and then transferred to undisclosed locations.

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